Thousands took to Hong Kong’s streets Sunday after Beijing said it would step into an escalating row over whether two city lawmakers who advocate a split from China should be banned from taking up their seats. The protest follows an ongoing judicial review by Hong Kong authorities, who are seeking to disqualify Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching from the Legislative Council (Legco) over their invalid oath-taking attempts last month, as fears grow that China is tightening its grip on the city.
The government said on Friday Beijing had notified Hong Kong authorities that China’s top legislative body would discuss the law which states that council members must swear allegiance to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. The interpretation of Hong Kong’s constitution – the Basic Law – by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) is expected to be announced Monday, local media reported.
Hong Kong was handed over by Britain to China in 1997 under a semi-autonomous “one country, two systems” deal, which guaranteed its freedoms for 50 years. There are deep concerns those liberties, enshrined in the city’s constitution, are under threat. Sunday’s demonstration drew thousands of protesters, who walked to the city’s court of final appeal and the Chinese liaison office while carrying banners saying “Chinese law interpretation tramples on Hong Kong people”.
“Hong Kong has its own legal system, it should not be controlled by Chinese authorities,” protester Alex Wong said. “We must tell the government we are not happy,” the 35-year-old office clerk said.
Monday’s expected announcement will mark the fifth time since the handover that Chinese authorities have interpreted Hong Kong’s constitution. The lawmakers at the heart of the controversy have previously said the interpretation would deal a “lethal blow” to the city and branded the chairman of the NPCSC and the city’s leader “traitors to Hong Kong”.
Yau and Leung won seats in September’s citywide polls, in which a number of new lawmakers advocating self-determination or independence swept to victory. They are yet to be sworn into the Legco, after their first oath attempt last month was declared invalid when they draped themselves in “Hong Kong is not China” banners and altered the wording of their pledges to include derogatory terms and expletives.